Critter is a superhero title from independent publisher Big Dog Ink. It focuses on the titular character, Critter, aka Cassia Crawford: a young college student with telekinetic abilities who joins the superhero team known as The Core.
Unlike other TK users in comic books, like Jean Grey of the X-Men, who use their abilities to levitate objects and people, Cassia’s powers are not so advanced, so she uses them as enhancements of her own physical abilities: speed, strength, and agility. She also has a utility belt with an odd liquid-metal prehensile tail that she uses her powers to control as a fifth limb. Also, she has metal cat ears, because… um, because cat ears. The character was created by comic book writer Tom Hutchison; Hutchison’s works often focus on strong female characters, such as his reimagining of the Wizard of Oz story in The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West and his take on the Faustian legend with Penny for Your Soul. So, how does Critter #3 hold up to his other work? Let’s find out.
The cover is decent; it’s Critter posing on a streetlight, looking down at our bad guy, Tidepool, the Ruler of the Depths. Critter was drawn by Federico Ossio, and he has a great understanding of detail and texture. The image of Critter and Tidepool about to square off is great and gives us a hint as to what’s in store. But there’s something off about the way the page is structured that actually seems to diminish Tidepool. He’s shoved down to the bottom corner with Critter in full body pose hovering over him. It’s less intimidating when she seems to be the one in control. Then there’s this massive moon behind her, which makes Tidepool seem even smaller in comparison.
The comic starts with various members of The Core battling brown monsters called Amphibodons, across the United States, always conveniently near water.
Then we see the hero Starlette battling monsters alongside her superhero trainee called Rookie. They’re a good pair, because Starlette’s power is being able to project light, while Rookie forms physical constructs out of light into the shapes of sports equipment: baseballs, bats, tennis rackets. They’re anxious because Critter is apparently supposed to be helping them but is nowhere to be seen.
It turns out Critter stopped to help a woman in the park who was being mugged; and we get to see some of Critter’s crime-fighting moves, including her ability to snap a knife with her bare hands.
But meanwhile, our villain, Tidepool, has arrived and is beating the ever-loving tar out of Rookie and Starlette. Rookie’s constructs just bounce off of him, and when Starlette tries to take him on she’s glued to a wall by the purple goop that Tidepool pukes out of the empty blackness where his face would be.
Yeah, Tidepool doesn’t have a face, just a black void with two little red angry eyes. It’s kind of cool, and gives him sort of an extra-menacing look. And just when it seems like a giant squid monster is about to do terrible things to both Starlette and Rookie, Critter arrives… and for some reason doesn’t have feet. I don’t know why, her legs just disappear into this purple mist that wasn’t there a few panels ago. Did Ossio just forget to draw feet, or was he taking art advice from Rob Liefeld when drawing these panels?
So, Critter and Tidepool fight, Tidepool puking sea slime everywhere and Critter jumping around and using her tail to grab him by the neck and throw him to the ground. Ossio’s talent shines in these panels. The fighting looks fluid, the panels are balanced and clear, and the character movements are dynamic and fun to look at.
Starlette frees herself and rescues Rookie from the squid. And just as Tidepool is about to skewer Critter on a spiky tentacle shooting out of his finger… because he has those… she’s tackled out of the way by Critter’s recurring nemesis, Mascara, who comes out of nowhere and tackles Critter into the water, dragging her down by the tail, forcing Critter to take off the utility belt. Critter surfaces and is pulled out of the water by another superhero named Slipstream, who comes out of nowhere and is suddenly gone. Yeah, including this character was totally necessary.
Oh, and it turns out that Tidepool is also gone. Yeah, he just decided he was done for the night and left while Critter was underwater; which is odd. You’d think a sea monster like Tidepool would have an advantage in the water, and thus would have tried to force Critter into the water in the first place. But whatever.
So, everyone goes home, Critter changes her outfit, and we get to see a shot of her in her underwear. Classy. (And to keep it classy, I’m not going to show it here, go read the actual comic.)
The comic also has a Backup Story about the origin of Critter’s mother, the superhero Velvet Fox. It’s a good story, where a young girl with superpowers is isolated from others because of her abilities, and finds comfort in the mentoring arms of Paradox.
Oh yeah, I forgot to talk about Paradox; he was in the main story, but didn’t do anything, so I didn’t mention him. He’s a time-traveler who wants to manipulate the future to his own ends, and apparently Velvet Fox is a key component to that.
Critter #3 is a good read. It’s mostly action, but it’s well-told action, and the characters are enjoyable. Critter’s fun, light-hearted attitude is refreshing in a superhero field where everyone seems to be writing dark brooding heroes who can’t crack a smile. Her acrobatic movements and playful nature actually reminded me a lot of early Spider-Man, but without the whining and endless monologuing. Even the name, Critter, just feels playful and fun.
I also really liked the chemistry between Rookie and Starlette; in fact, they were my favorite part of the comic. I kind of wish the comic had been more about them, since the only reason Critter was even needed at all was to stall Tidepool for a brief moment, while Starlette got out of the slime and helped Rookie to free herself from the squid. Rookie’s struggle against a clearly more powerful opponent in Tidepool made me care much more about her than I did for Critter.
If I had to give bad marks to the story, I’d say the conclusion to the fight with Tidepool feels like a let-down. They get interrupted and he just leaves off-panel. It would have been nice to get some more resolution, but you get the impression that we’ll see him again and that there’s more to come; so for a first appearance it was decent.
Also, this story felt weighed down by a lot of extraneous characters. Slipstream and Paradox take up space and have no real presence (well, except for Paradox in the Backup Story, but let’s focus on the main story). And Mascara taking Critter’s belt was over so quickly it had little emotional impact. Maybe if Mascara had been more involved with the story, like if she has been seen following Critter on her way to the fight, or joined in fighting the Amphibodons alongside The Core for a while only to turn on Critter at the end, instead of coming in only when the plot required it she wouldn’t have felt like such a diversion.
Overall, Critter #3 is a fun read, worth checking out. It features likable characters in a superhero universe full of opportunities. Tom Hutchison continues to provide the comic book medium with great female characters, and if that’s what you’re looking for check out his other work. And the artwork is great. Both Fico Ossio and CB Zane, who drew the Backup Story, have a good understanding of how to draw exciting action scenes that don’t get overdone and step into god-awful 90’s comics territory. The characters are expressive and relatable.
It is also of note that for most of the book, despite the presence of so many attractive female characters, it almost never feels like they’re drawn to titillate or exploit them, another trend that is sadly permeating much of the comic book medium today… well, okay it’s always been part of the comic book medium, but come on people, time and place.
Check out the rest of BDI’s work too. Independent publishers who are producing positive entertainment like this deserve much more attention than major publishers who keep falling into he tropes and bad habits. There are better options out there, and their success encourages publishers to raise their standards for storytelling by trusting in well-rounded, well-defined, well-written, well-drawn characters to bring readers back, instead of angering fans by constantly thinking they have to pull another game-changer to keep the readership from getting bored.